Review: The Day Tajon Got Shot

Title: The Day Tajon Got Shot
Authors: The Teen Writers of Beacon House
Publisher: Shout Mouse Press
Pages: 190
Genre: Contemporary, Issue
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Meet Tajon.

Tajon is sixteen and black.
He’s tall and skinny, and he wears his hair in dreads.
Tajon works hard and tries his best to be good.
He does OK in school. He has plans.
He’s determined.

Tajon is the kind of son who cares about his family.
He’s the kind of brother who stands up for his sister.
He’s the kind of kid who dreams big dreams to get himself and
those he loves up and out of the hood.

Tajon is the one who gets shot.

Meet the authors: Mikiah, T’Asia, J’yona, Reiyanna, Jonae, Rose, Najae, Serenity  Jeanet, and Temil. Ten black teen girls in Washington, DC started writing this book during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. They began with one central question: What really happens in a community when a black youth is the victim of violence by police? Each writer takes on the perspective of a central character – the victim, the police officer, the witness, the parent, the friend – and examines how it feels to be a human being on all sides of this event. Their stories thoughtfully explore issues of race, violence, loyalty, and justice in a community torn apart but seeking connection.

Review: The Day Tajon Got Shot presents Tajon’s story in a unique way. It’s told from many perspectives using many forms of media. It means that we don’t get to know all of the characters in great depth, but we do get to see this one major event from many angles. The writers were careful to show that the characters are not simply good or evil. They show how complex people and situations can be. I enjoyed the mix of photographs, artwork, poetry, prose, and even tweets. The format makes this book appealing to readers who like quick reads. It’s also just interesting to see the different ways the writers chose to communicate. It appears that they staged many of the pictures, but some of the photos seems to have been from actual protests. Some of the images could be troubling for readers who are fatigued after seeing many instances of violence against young Black people. There weren’t any photos of actual wounds, but there were blood stains on the ground and people in frightening situations. The images definitely do the job of communicating emotion. There is also a much too lengthy list of the people of color who were killed by police during the time they were writing the book. For me, that was one of the most difficult parts to read and it really drove home the reason for the existence of this book.

This is the kind of book that would be useful for inspiring discussion and could even be a model for other teens who would like to write or do something in response to current issues. The writers want to help make a change. They have hope and tell about the way things are and the way they think things should be.

I liked how the different parts of the book worked together. All of the pieces supported the story from text formats to the graphics to the layout. The dedication kicks it off, “This book is for all those who are going through loss and pain, who have protested, and who are sick and tired of what is going on.” The next element is a quote from Justice Sonia Sotomayor referencing, “… people who are routinely targeted by police….Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.” The quote is followed by a preface which was surprisingly lengthy. It provides the context for the project though and has helpful information. Some readers may just skip to the artwork and opening poem, “The Evidence” by Camisha Jones, which is quite powerful.

There are photos and brief descriptions of each main character followed by the narrative which alternates between characters with breaks for media. The writing isn’t incredibly sophisticated, but that made sense within this format of brief sections. Also, I appreciated that the voices of the teens hadn’t seemed to be overpowered by adult editing. The authors took risks sharing the realities they see in their own way. They stepped out in the hope and belief that their voices matter and they created a book that will surely inform and affect many readers.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re looking for realistic fiction about current events, especially if you’re interested in hearing directly from teens.

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Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand LanternsTitle: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Publisher: Philomel Books
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: There’s something about retellings of the Evil Queen legend from Snow White that almost always captures the imagination. She’s a fascinating figure — evil, beautiful, and destined to be undone by some sweet girl with a taste for apples. The retelling that haunts me the most is Neil Gaiman’s chilling short story.

I think it’s safe to say that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has usurped that particular throne. This story, influenced by the culture and history of Imperial China, is beautifully written — fitting for a story about a surpassingly beautiful empress-to-be. It tells the dark path Xifeng must take to rise above her humble origins and become queen.

Of course, that path is not easy. Xifeng struggles to free herself of the evil within her, along with the voice of her abusive aunt who all along has pushed her to pursue her powerful destiny and her conflicted feelings for her love, Wei. She’s a sympathetic figure, torn between her loyalty to the flawed people in her life and her unyielding ambition. As you follow along with her struggles, it’s easy to forget the framework of the story and who she’s meant to become – the Evil Queen from Snow White.

And at other times, it’s not so easy to forget. Xifeng’s ambition means that she regards most women as beneath her in one way or another, and she often does or says things that are cruel and vicious. At the same time, the conniving, backstabbing nature of the imperial court means that no one — except for, like, two men early in the story — comes out looking good. And I don’t know how I feel about one key (super spoilerly) reveal and its implications. This is definitely a tale told from the perspective of a rising villain, and no punches are pulled. At least for me, it’s hard to be comfortable with that.

Finally, I have to mention the worldbuilding. The details and imagery is just gorgeous. Every mention of a meal left me hungry (sugar dusted persimmon cakes! want!). This, along with the hint of the future Snow White storyline, is why I’m looking forward to the sequel. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that. If you love a good fairy tale reimagining, you’ll want to check this book out.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Native Perspectives

If you’re looking for some fantastic books written by Native authors, we have two new titles to share with you.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Annick Press

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. In the same style as the best-selling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, humiliation, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women making themselves heard and demanding change. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.

Recommendation: This is a phenomenal collection of essays, interviews, poetry, and various forms of art created by Native women.  They share the past, the present and hopes for the future. They also share pain, anger, connections, triumphs, hope, and so much more. We heartily recommend this book.

More to note:

In October we each read the book and had a discussion you may find here.

You may also find Crystal’s Review here.

For even more about the book, visit Dr. Debbie Reese’s site, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), to read her review.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books

Summary: In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing “factories.”

Mini-Review & Recommendation: The Marrow Thieves is a powerful book of survival, love, family, and all that matters. What made the book intense for me was how this dystopian story felt very much like it could happen in the near future. Sometimes dystopias feel like they are way off in the future, but this felt horribly close. It drew from the recent past with the many connections to residential schools and the new version of them rapidly multiplying seemingly everywhere. This book may lead readers to question what they are willing to do for their loved ones and future generations. A quote that stood out to me was, “Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to live it.” I highly recommend The Marrow Thieves. These are characters nobody should miss.

More to note:

Dr. Debbie Reese has also posted a thorough review at her blog.

An interview with Cherie Dimaline at School Library Journal “Cherie Dimaline on Erasure, the Power of Story, and The Marrow Thieves”


If you’re interested in more titles by Native authors or about Native characters, here are a few book lists we’ve posted in the past:

Native American Heritage Month 2016

Native American Voices

Native YA Protagonists

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Book Review: Disappeared

Title: Disappeared
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 326 pages
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores

Summary: Four months ago: Sara Zapata’s best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juàrez.

Four weeks ago: Her brother, Emiliano, fell in love with Perla Rubi, a girl whose family is as rich as her name.

Four hours ago: Sara received a death threat…and her first clue her friend’s location.

Four minutes ago: Emiliano was offered a way into Perla Rubi’s world—if he betrays his own.

In the next four days, Sara and Emiliano will each face impossible choices, between life and justice, friends and family, truth and love. But when the criminals come after Sara, only one path remains for both the siblings: the way across the desert to the United States.

Review: Francisco Stork’s newest novel is a timely one that when put in the right hands would help folks understand how immigration, the hows and whys people come to America, is a very complex subject. Told in alternating voice between siblings Sara and Emiliano we learn the reason why the two are forced to leave everything and everyone they love behind to come to the United States. The alternate voice works especially well in telling this story as the events in Sara and Emiliano’s two stories are linked in a way that as a reader you realize is on a collision course. Of course, these normally close siblings are facing tough adult decisions, but as often when one wants to mull things over quietly, the two never share their concerns with the other. It’s a classic trope to create tension, but it worked really well in Disappeared. Each of the reasons the siblings have for not confiding in the other as they usually would, are compelling and realistic. There are consequences for both if they confide in the other and neither wants to pull their sibling into their drama. Unfortunately, both realize how their two situations are related, but at that point in the story both siblings are struggling for their lives. It is this realization, however, that pulls them closer and helps them cross the border.

I loved that the majority of the novel was set in Juarez, giving a reader a glimpse of what life is like in Mexico as a result of the cartels. In the novel, Juarez is recovering, slowly, from the damage the cartels left on the city but the corruption and influence the cartels had is still felt in some way. Sara and Emiliano have carved out a comfortable life in Juarez, but we do see a perspective of life from the poorest inhabitants to the richest. We learn about the many different ways the people of Juarez either fought back against the cartels or managed to live with them. Sara and Emiliano are examples of this complexity and this novel highlights how despite a community’s struggle, it still has home and home has meaning. Learning to love Juarez the way Sara and Emiliano do really hits home and hurts when they are forced to leave. It truly is a heartbreaking moment when they realize that they have to leave everything they hold dear because their lives are in danger. With any book, you want the main character to win, but with Disappeared you know that the happy ending both siblings wanted for their lives is over and now they have to start a new, and they are not really happy about it. This subverts the “happy immigrant” trope and really highlights how coming into the United States, specifically crossing the border, is never an easy decision for a person to make.

My only quibble with this novel is that I feel it ended to soon. I felt like Sara and Emiliano’s story was unfinished. I wanted to know if the decision they made (can’t tell because of spoilers) really paid off. I was left wanting more by that ending, but then again, the writer in me enjoyed that their story was practically unfinished because the story of immigration is not a complete story. It is forever changing and where we are in our country’s politics, at a point where compassion and understand for our fellow human beings must be reinforced. Therefore, Disappeared is not a novel about what happens when immigrants arrive in the US, but their story of how and why they come to the US. More of these stories must be told and for that reason, for the chance to live in Sara and Emiliano’s shoes for a brief moment, made this novel worth it.


Interview with Francisco X. Stork on Latinx in Kids Lit site. There is a hint about what is next for Sara and Emiliano – yes!

A Conversation with YA Author Francisco X. Stork

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New Release

This week we found one new release and it looks like a fascinating fantasy.

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
Razorbill

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

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Review: Wild Beauty

Wild BeautyTitle: Wild Beauty
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, LGBTQIA
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Review: So, it’s been a while since I ugly sobbed my way through the climax and resolution of a book, but here I am, wanting you to have the exact same experience. In a book where love can—and often does—bring tragedy, it goes without saying that there would be a lot of heartache in store. There’s bucketfuls of it, passed on from generation to generation, of lovers vanished or sent away before the Nomeolvides curse can take hold of them.

Wild Beauty starts off with a bang, when Estrella and her four cousins discover that they have all fallen (a little) in love with Bay Briar, a queer non-binary girl whose extended family owns the land they live on, La Pradera. The girls’ rush to sacrifice their precious things to La Pradera in an attempt to keep Bay from vanishing is what causes a boy called Fel, who has no memory of who he is or where he came from, to appear in their enchanted garden. And while Fel tries to figure out who he is, the girls, their mothers, and their grandmothers all have to wrestle with what Fel means as the only person to have ever been given back by La Pradera.

Anna-Marie McLemore tackles love in its many forms, and there is an abundance of queer characters, young and old. The tragedy of the Nomeolvides family isn’t in who they love—it’s in the curse that steals anyone and everyone from them without warning. There is a wide range of love in this book, and some of my favorite moments were when love and caring and gratitude were given physical form through the cooking and sharing of food. Another major theme in the book is how privilege and the lack of it both radically shape opportunities and lives. Reid’s character in particular is a close-up examination and condemnation of powerful men who believe they are above others, and the heroes’ confrontations with and strategies to manage him were all too real.

Continuing the pattern established by McLemore’s previous books, Wild Beauty has duel protagonists who alternate chapters. Estrella and Fel were excellent narrators, and the richness of their inner lives is a great fit for the lush prose. I really enjoyed the way the two of them connected and grew together.

While there were occasional moments where I felt the story got bogged down by description, the meandering pace and lingering on the details generally enhanced the story and was a good reminder that the setting—La Pradera—is just as important as any of the people. This world is a fantastical one, with curses and women who grow flowers with their hands, and it is also a familiar one, where injustice and blood leave lasting scars that shape future generations.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you want a big dose of queer characters and magical realism. McLemore’s newest offering is another great addition to any home or school library. Fans of McLemore’s previous work will find more of what they loved before in Wild Beauty, and the book will be just as welcoming to new readers. I’m looking forward to reading it again.

Extras

Better Know an Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Anna-Marie McLemore’s ‘Wild Beauty’ Is A Magical Story Of Love, Loss, And Family Curses

Interview with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of “When the Moon Was Ours” and “Wild Beauty”

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